Though it’s never been a ratings powerhouse, finishing outside the Nielsen Top 50 in each of its five seasons, NBC’s “The Office” has everything else a network could want in this increasingly fragmented era of television entertainment: Mountains of great reviews, a likable cast that stays in the public eye with budding film careers, plenty of opportunities for product placement, and a devoted following among the coveted 18-49 demographic. In fact, if you didn’t have any idea what the Nielsen rankings were, you might think “The Office” was a phenomenon of “Cheers” proportions, when in fact it hasn’t even managed “Night Court”-sized ratings. More after the jump:
Of course, “Night Court” really only had to compete against two other shows at any given moment, while “The Office” is squaring off against everything on the cable dial, in addition to the fact that you can stream the show at Hulu whenever you feel like it. The days of appointment viewing are pretty much over – but even if TV has splintered its audience into dozens of bite-sized fragments, it can still create a hit, and “The Office” is the 21st-century version.
For concrete proof, look no further than NBC/Universal’s lovingly curated Blu-ray collection of the show’s fifth season, which bundles a crisp 1080p transfer of these 26 episodes with a ton of extras, including episode commentaries featuring the cast and crew (and they mean that literally – you’ll hear from the production staff and craft services personnel), deleted scenes, a gag reel, and much more. It’s hard to build a case for needing to see any sitcom in HD, but being that as it may, this package takes perfect advantage of the new technology to provide a beautiful interactive experience for fans of the show – and it adds a chunk of extra content exclusive to Blu-ray, including a “One-Liner Soundboard” that allows you to mix and match lines from the show, string them together, and share them via BD-Live.
All of which would be pretty nice even if the fifth season of “The Office” sucked, which it totally doesn’t. It’s true that the show took some sharp twists and turns this year, and moved pretty far afield from its early focus on the budding love story of Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), as well as the always-funny rivalry between Jim and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) – but the main strength of “The Office” has always been its incredible ensemble cast, and these episodes took full advantage of that strength, folding in plots that ranged from the unsurprisingly comic to the unexpectedly tragic (the bumpy romance between Michael [Steve Carell] and Holly [Amy Ryan] and a health scare for Stanley [Leslie David Baker], to name two). The series has never shied from potential shark-jumping developments, but the fifth season was full of them; it started with Jim and Pam grappling with a four-month separation, continued through Michael (Steve Carell) quitting his job, and ended with a twist that has been known to lead to the most show-killing cast ingredient of all time (and no, we aren’t talking about Ted McGinley).
Even for all that, though, “The Office” never faltered during this season; much as viewers might have wanted more of Jim and Pam, or missed Jim’s pranks on Dwight, you can’t keep a show fresh by returning to the same well every week, and these episodes prove that this is a series with virtually limitless possibilities (not to mention proving that Idris Elba is a lot more than Stringer Bell of “The Wire”). Whether you talk about it at the water cooler or chat about it on an online forum, whether you watch it on live TV, use your TiVo, or stream it in your browser, “The Office” is one of the only modern sitcoms worth buying for your home library – and this is unquestionably the format to own.
The Office: Season Five (NBC/Universal, 2009)
Starring: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling